Unforgettable 'Hawks

Sure, these folks weren't All Americans, but trust us, they should have been. Except some of them didn't even play. Or coach. Still, these are some former Hawks who should definitely be filed away into your mental Rolodex.


Mike McCormack

6-3, 230

Kansas City, Mo. (De LaSalle)

Some athletes shine early, while others grow into the job.

You might put Mike McCormack into the latter category.

While McCormack was a Jayhawk, he played offensive tackle and was a captain. "Big Mick" played in the East-West and Chicago All-Star games following his senior season. And he was an honorable mention for All-America honors.

But it wasn't until he got into the pros that his true value became apparent.

McCormack was a third-round draft pick of the New York Yanks in 1951 before going into the Army for two years.

While in military service, McCormack was traded to the Cleveland Browns as part of a 15-player deal. With the Browns, he played in six pro bowls.

Cleveland Head Coach Paul Brown called him, "the finest offensive lineman I've ever coached."

Think lineman don't make key plays? In the 1954 National Football League's championship game, McCormack stole the ball, setting up the Browns for a touchdown and the win.

He played in three championship games with the Browns, helping them win two.

In 1984, McCormack was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Formerly the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, McCormack is currently with the Carolina Panthers.

Curtis McClinton

6-2, 212

Wichita, Kan. (North)

Curtis McClinton was big, strong and fast. And he brought excitement to KU's backfield.

Although he was used as a blocking back at KU, McClinton still carried the ball for 1,377 yards in his three-year career. That puts him at No. 21 on KU's all-time rushing list. He was the team's leading rusher in 1959.

Both the Sporting News and the Pro Scouts named McClinton in 1961 to their own All-America teams. He also was named to the Big Eight's all-conference squad three times.

McClinton also shined on the track, capturing the Big Eight championship in hurdles all three years.

He also played in the East-West Shrine game, the Hula Bowl and the All-Star game.

Turning pro, McClinton was a 14th-round draft pick of the Dallas Texans, which later moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.

The year he joined the Texans, McClinton was named rookie of the year.

McClinton was named MVP in 1963's American Football League's All-Star game.

He also was a member of the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs team that won the Super Bowl.

Fans named him to the all-time KU team in 1969 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of college football.

John Riggins

6-2, 230

Centralia, Kan.

To understand what kind of backfield player John Riggins was at KU, all you have to do is look at his nickname, "The Diesel."

Also known as Riggo, he smashed through lines like an unrelenting piledriver force. And he piled up the yardage, leading KU in rushing for three seasons. He finished with 2,659 yards, which ranks him in fifth place on KU's all-time rushing chart and 14th for total yards.

Riggins also is No. 2 on the rushing chart for most touchdowns in a season, pounding in 14 in 1970.

That season he also rushed for 1,131 yards, which put him fourth on KU's season rushing yardage.

He was also won Big Eight all-conference honors twice.

But "The Diesel" turned it up a notch when he reached the pros.

In 1971, the New York Jets picked him in the first round. After playing with the Jets, he joined the Washington Redskins in 1976. And Riggins helped to carry them into the Super Bowl three times.

He was named Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XVII, when he took the ball and ran 43 yards to give the Redskins the victory.

Riggins was also inducted into the Ring of Honor at Washington's RFK Stadium. In 1992, he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible. In 1999, he was named to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Nolan Cromwell

6-1, 198

Ransom, Kan.

Nolan Cromwell, who excelled in both football and track, was gifted with speed and agility, leading him to shine at two positions at KU - free safety his freshmen and sophomore years and quarterback his junior and senior year.

During his freshman season, Cromwell showed his skills as free safety, earning a starting role in the Liberty Bowl. He also started as free safety his sophomore year.

But his real breakthrough came in his junior year. KU Coach Bud Moore brought in the wishbone offense and moved Cromwell over to quarterback.

It was a bold move that paid off.

That year he broke several KU, Big Eight and NCAA records for rushing by a quarterback.

Cromwell's speed and agility earned him the nickname, "Ransom Rambler."

He was named the 1975 Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year, rambling for 1,124 yards, which was the third highest in NCAA history at that time.

He was also an honorable mention for All-American honors that year.

Cromwell also earned All America honors on the track, setting Kansas records in the 600 and 400 yard runs, the intermediate hurdles and the decathlon.

Going into the pros, he was a second-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Rams. He played safety with the Rams, being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1980. He also played in the Pro Bowl. He played with the Rams until 1988.

Cromwell is now on the coaching staff of the Seattle Seahawks.

Mike Norseth

6-3, 205
LaCrescenta, Calif.

(Crescenta Valley)

Mike Norseth was the reason Kansas University was known as "Air Gottfried" in the 1980s - Norseth could throw the ball. And throw the ball he did for KU's offense and for coach Mike Gottfried.

"He had some great passing games," said Chuck Woodling, Journal-World sports editor.

Norseth spent the first two years of his college career at Snow Junior College.

By the end of his KU career, Norseth owned several KU offensive records: most yards of total offense gained in a season (2,995), most completions in a season (227), most attempts in a season (408), most touchdown passes in a season (15), most yards total offense in a single game (509) and season (3,214) and most offensive plays in one season (543).

Norseth also was named ESPN and Sports Illustrated "Player of the Week" as a Jayhawk.

He participated in the 1985 Hula Bowl, Senior Bowl and was named MVP of the Blue-Gray Classic.

Surprisingly, Norseth wasn't nearly as successful in the pros. It might have been because he wasn't tall enough or quite quick enough on his feet to avoid getting sacked. He had a three-year career with the Cleveland Browns.

Tony Sands

Running back
5-6, 175

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

"Tuxedo Tony" Sands always wore a tuxedo during his days as a student.

"He didn't have a suit, so he wore a tuxedo - that's all he had," said Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor.

Sands played bigger than the 5-foot-6, 175 pound frame he put into that tux.

"I think he was all heart," Woodling said. "Tony Sands was not big. He was not fast. And he really didn't have good hands. And yet, he just ran, ran, ran."

Sands set or tied 17 Kansas rushing or scoring records during his career, including most yards in a game (396), in a season (1,479) and in a career (3,788). Sands was named the 1991 Big Eight Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

During his four years at KU, Sands had 17 games where he rushed for 100 or more yards.

He was selected for the All Big Eight first team and earned a place on the Associated Press's All American third team his senior year.

Sands had what was considered his greatest game during in his final home game against Missouri. That's when he had 58 carries for 396 yards, establishing an NCAA single-game record (which has since been broken).

He also played in the Hula Bowl and in the East-West College All-Star Game following his senior year.

Sands wasn't drafted by the NFL. He tried to make it, but was too small, not fast enough and couldn't catch well enough, Woodling said.

"But it was great having him. He was a wonderful guy," Woodling said.

Dana Stubblefield

Defensive end
6-3, 285

Cleves, Ohio (Taylor)

You wouldn't think a great defensive lineman would be only 6-3. But Dana Stubblefield was so strong he could bust through offensive lines and wreak all kinds of havoc.

Stubblefield made it to the Jayhawks on Proposition 48 status, not qualifying out of high school on NCAA academic standards to receive a scholarship.

"He didn't do very well on the books, but he was a smart guy," said Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor. "He was a classic example of why they would have

Prop 48. He screwed up in high school, but he could do the work."

Stubblefield became a mainstay on one of the greatest defensive lines in KU history, which included Gilbert Brown, Chris Maumalanga and Kyle Moore.

Stubblefield received first team All America honors from College & Pro Football Weekly. He also won second team All-American honors from the Associated Press and Football News after his senior year.

During his three years at KU, he had 19 quarterback sacks, including 10 in 1991.

Stubblefield, a team captain, was named as the MVP in the 1992 Aloha Bowl.

His career stats include being sixth in total tackles with 168, fourth with 17 sacks, and fifth in total tackles for a loss, with 30.

He was also named to the All Big Eight first team after his junior and senior seasons.

Stubblefield was a first-round draft pick for the San Francisco 49ers, where he earned Defensive Newcomer of the Year award as a rookie. Stubblefield is currently with the 49ers.

Laverne Smith

Running back
5-11, 190

Wichita, Kan. (Southeast)

Laverne Smith was one of those rare players who was so fast, you wondered if his feet ever left the ground.

"He was probably the fastest KU running back I have ever seen," said Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor.

Smith did not have the great moves that Gale Sayers had, but his speed was among the greatest in KU history.

"He really fit in the wishbone attack that KU had during those days," Woodling said. "He was in there with Nolan Cromwell."

Smith, who was fortunate to have Billy Campfield blocking for him, piled up an average of 6.5 yards per carry. He ended his career ranking first in career rushing with 3,192 yards on 488 carries, which put him third behind Tony Sands and June Henley.

"He wasn't a workhorse, like a Tony Sands or a June Henley, but boy could he run," Woodling said. "He was one of those guys who hardly lifted his legs off the ground. He was a scooter."

Smith was also the 1976 Big Eight champion in the 100 meters and in the 440-yard relay.

His top game was in 1975, when he ran for 236 yards on 15 carries, which averaged 15.7 yards per carry.

He also had break-away speed, with touchdown runs of 80 yards and 75 yards in 1975.

Smith was a 1976 fourth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Frank Seurer

6-2, 195
Huntington Beach, Calif.

Edison High School

One of the greatest accomplishments of All-American John Hadl was done long after Hadl had hung up his helmet - he recruited Frank Seurer, a California schoolboy with a magnificent throwing arm.

"Frank Seurer was a great passer out of Huntington Beach High School and came here and did the same thing," said Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor.

Seurer rolled up 6,112 yards of offense in the air and on the ground while at KU.

In 1983, as a co-captain, he led the Jayhawks' offense to roll up an average 403.1 yards per game, including 286 yards through the air.

Seurer's total offense of 2,660 yards during the 1983 puts him in second place in the KU record book.

He was named to the All Big Eight first team in 1983. He also was No. 1 in KU history for most plays, 1,181; passing yards, 6,410, and completions, with 467.

Seurer's top game was as a senior against Colorado, when he passed and ran for 394 yards, putting him in the No. 5 all-time position for total yardage at KU.

Seurer holds four of the top 15 individual game total offensive marks. In his junior season, he led the Big Eight in passing, despite missing all of one game and part of another.

Seurer was also known for his durability. The only major injury he had was in 1981, when he hurt his elbow and could not play in the old Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. KU lost to Mississippi State.

"I always like to have seen what they would have done if Frank Seurer had played in that game," Woodling said.

Seurer tried to play in the pros and was with the Kansas City Chiefs for awhile. Seurer is now a firefighter in Olathe.

Leroy Irvin

6-0, 180

Augusta, Ga. (Glen Hills)

Leroy Irvin was one of those players who seemed to shine brighter once he made it into the NFL.

"He became a great pro and was a tremendous punt returner," said Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor.

Irvin played during some lackluster years for the Kansas defensive units.

"He was the last line of defense and made a ton of tackles," Woodling said. "When you talk about KU defensive backs of all time, he's got to be one of them."

Irvin showed his grit during his first season, when he landed a starting spot as a freshman. And in his first game as a starter, which was against KSU, Irvin brought down an interception.

The following year, Irvin nabbed two more interceptions. And he showed his knack for finding the ball, leading the team in tackles, with 106.

Irvin's best year for tackles came in his junior year, when he clobbered the record books with 127 tackles - the best ever for a defensive back at KU.

Irvin had two 17-tackle games that season. And he turned up his fire a notch against Missouri, crunching 21 in that game, ranking him in a tie for eighth in that category in the KU record book.

Irvin was a third-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Rams and played with them until 1989.

He was inducted in 2000 into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Willie Pless

6-0, 215

Anniston, Ala.

Don't believe what you read about Willie Pless's size. He might have been listed at 6 feet and 215, but that's gotta be a joke.

"He was more like five-ten and a half and 215," says Chuck Woodling, J-W sports editor. "You look at him and you say, 'That guy's the leading tackler in KU history?'"

Like Irvin, Pless was a standout among some lackluster defensive units, which meant he was on the field a lot during his career.

Pless was known as one of the hardest working players on the team, earning him the "110 Percent Award" from his teammates. And he had a knack for the ball, which helped him become the school's all-time tackling leader.

Pless has the single-season tackling record, with 206, and the career record, with 633.

"You had to see the guy to believe how many tackles he got in on. It was just amazing," Woodling said.

After finishing out his career at KU, Pless was the Big Eight's all-time leading tackler.

KU honored Pless in 1985 by creating an award named for him that is presented to the KU player with the most tackles and assists in a season.

He was named as an All American in 1985 by Playboy magazine and in 1984 was named a second team All American by the Associated Press.

Pless also shined in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic in 1985, being named as the defensive MVP. He was also a member of the Big Eight's all-decade team. And he was honored for his skills in the classroom, being named a GTE Region VII Academic All American in 1985.

He went on to the Canadian Football League and became the all-time leading tackler there.

"I would think his Canadian Football League tackling records are unassailable," Woodling said.


Fielding H. Yost

Head Coach
b. April 10, 1871

d. Aug. 21, 1946

You've probably heard of the "hurry-up" offense often used in the pros to make a quick score at the end of a game. It may seem like a modern-day coaching contrivance.

Not so. Just about 100 years ago, Fielding H. Yost, was well known for his "Point-a-Minute" teams at the University of Michigan. But before earning his reputation, Fielding began developing his coaching repertoire and winning ways at Kansas University.

Coming off the 1887 season coaching Ohio Wesleyan and the 1898 season at Nebraska, Fielding made a one-year stop at Kansas in 1899.

And it was quite a year.

The Jayhawks went 10-0 under his guidance - only one of two perfect KU seasons in the last century.

Yost built an offensive juggernaut that outscored opponents 280-37, rolling up an average of 28 points per game.

Yost took his offensive formula to Stanford in 1900 before settling in at Michigan, where he was head coach from 1901 to 1923 and from 1925 to 1926.

One of his classic victories was when his 1902 Michigan team demolished Stanford 49-0 in the Rose Bowl. His Michigan team played 56 consecutive games without a loss, including 29 victories.

Yost was inducted in 1951 into the College Football Foundation Hall of Fame. In 1979, he was elected to the Michigan Hall of Honor.

Dr. John H. Outland

Head Coach
b. March 7, 1871

d. March 24, 1947

If you look at his record at KU, which was 3-5-2 for the 1901 season, you wouldn't think of him as being that influential.

But Dr. John H. Outland's contributions can't be defined by one season of coaching - he was influential in getting the contributions of football's lineman recognized in the sport.

And he was instrumental in getting the Kansas Relays out of the starting gate.

Outland attended KU in 1893 and 1894 before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue his medical studies.

There Outland shined as a defensive lineman in 1895, receiving All-America honors. He was named an All-American the following year after playing fullback.

That made him only one of two players who were All-Americans at two positions.

Outland served as KU's coach during 1901, then went on to practice as a surgeon in the Kansas City area.

His efforts to get interior linemen recognized led to the Football Writers Association of America presenting the first Outland Trophy in 1946 to Notre Dame's George Connor.

Outland had seen the Penn Relays while a student there and thought something similar should be done at Kansas. He approached KU's F.C. "Phog" Allen about it in 1920. And three years later, the Kansas Relays were born.

George H. Sauer

Head Coach
b. Dec. 11, 1910

d. Feb. 5, 1994

Winning was what George H. Sauer was all about - first as a player, then as a coach at KU and later on in the pro ranks as the builder of the New York Jets' Super Bowl franchise of the 1960s.

In his playing days, Sauer was a fullback at Nebraska, where he received All-America honors.

He went on to coach at New Hampshire (1937-1942) and then served during World War II on the U.S.S. Enterprise, where he became a lieutenant colonel.

He became KU's 24th football coach in 1946. For that season and the next, Sauer led KU to two Big Six Conference championships. His career at KU culminated in taking the team to the 1948 Orange Bowl.

He went on to coach at Navy (1948-1949) and Baylor (1950-1956). He also served as Baylor's athletics director (1950-1960).

In 1954, he was elected to the National Football Hall of Fame.

Sauer made the move into professional football in 1961, when he became general manager of the New York Titans (which became the New York Jets.)

He directed player personnel from 1962 to 1969, building the franchise into a Super Bowl winner.

Sauer was named to the Kansas Hall of Fame in 1976.

Jules Verne (J.V.) Sikes

Head Coach
b. Oct. 22, 1904

d. May 20, 1964

If you went to a KU football game from 1948 through 1953, chances are you saw some of the most exciting contests in KU history.

J.V. Sikes was the Kansas mentor during that era. And Sikes liked to put the ball up into the air.

During his six seasons at KU, Sikes put together a 35-25 record.

One of the most memorable season was in 1948, when his team went 7-3, which included a win over Nebraska.

Sikes moved on in 1953 to East Texas State University, where he remained until his death at the age of 59 in 1964. During his 10 seasons there, he compiled a 63-34-4 record, and took his team to the Tangerine Bowl in 1957 and 1958.

ETSU honored the coach by naming its highest football award after him. He is a member of the ETSU Hall of Fame, named as a charter member in 1978.

As a student at Texas A&M, Sikes was a three-sports star and is also in the Texas A&M Hall of Fame. He played professional baseball after college in the Texas League.

Jack Mitchell

Head Coach

b. Dec. 3, 1924

Time for a quiz: When was the last time Kansas went 5-0 over Nebraska? Answer: 1957-1961.

And during the last four of those years, Jack Mitchell was mentoring the Jayhawks.

Mitchell, a native of Arkansas City, Kan., went on in his nine seasons at KU to roll up a record of 44-42-5.

One of his most memorable seasons was in 1960, when KU ended a 30-year drought and won its conference championship.

Unfortunately, the title was revoked when it turned out KU had to forfeit games against Colorado and Missouri.

But Mitchell returned the following year undaunted. He took the Jayhawks to the Bluebonnet Bowl, where they routed Rice, 35-7.

As a coach, Mitchell could recruit and develop talent. He coached five All-Americans, and 16 of his former players went on to play in the pros.

He was an All-American quarterback himself, playing at Oklahoma. Before coming to Kansas, Mitchell was the head coach at the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University) from 1953-1954.

Don Fambrough

1971-1974 and 1979-1982
Head Coach

b. Oct. 19, 1922

He might not be Coach anymore. But to many fans and players, Don Fambrough will always be part of the heart and soul of KU's football program.

Of the eight bowl games Kansas teams has been invited to over the years, Fambrough played or coached in five.

During his playing years at KU, Fambrough received all-conference honors as a guard in 1946 and 1947.

After his 1947 season at KU, Fambrough played on the 1948 Orange Bowl team.

The Lawrence Journal-World polled fans to select a first team for the Jayhawks to commemorate college football's centennial. The fans picked Fambrough as a starting guard on that team.

After graduating, Fambrough kept close ties with KU, serving on the coaching staff of J.V. Sikes.

He had served as an assistant coach for 19 years on KU teams before being given the head coaching job in 1971.

Fambrough showed he had learned a lot as assistant under Sikes, Jack Mitchell and Pepper Rodgers. In his third season as the Jayhawks' head coach, Fambrough took his team to the 1973 Liberty Bowl.

After the 1974 season, he became assistant director of the Williams Fund.

KU turned to Fambrough again in 1979 to be the head coach. And in 1981, Fambrough led the Jayhawks to the Hall of Fame Bowl.

He was named that same year as the Associated Press Big Eight Coach of the Year.

Dean Nesmith

Head Trainer
b. Feb. 11, 1914

d. Sept. 25, 1985

Athletes in just about every KU sport got to know Dean Smith very well in their careers at KU.

"Deaner" took care of the strains and sprains of dozens of world-class athletes during his 50 years as head trainer at KU.

The list , which is about as long as a thick roll of tape, includes Gale Sayers, Glenn Cunningham, Wilt Chamberlain, Ray Evans, Jim Ryun, Clyde Lovellette, Al Oerter, John Hadl, JoJo White, Wes Santee, Bill Nieder and many others.

Nesmith was a KU athlete himself. He played tackle for KU on the football team from 1933 to 1935.

After playing professionally for one year, Nesmith returned to KU to finish his degree. He also worked under trainer Elwyn Dees.

When Dees moved on to Oklahoma State following spring practices in 1938, Nesmith became KU's second trainer.

Nesmith was elected into the Helms Hall of Fame for athletic trainers in 1971. He has been honored by the K-Club (KU's lettermen club). And KU's training room bears his name.